Escaping from the attentions of the Bondsmagi Locke Lamora, the estwhile Thorn of Camorr and Jean Tannen have fled their home city. Taking ship they arrive in the city state of Tal Varrar where they are soon planning their most spectacular heist yet; they will take the luxurious gaming house, The Sinspire, for all of its countless riches. No-one has ever taken even a single coin from the Sinspire that wasn't won on the tables or in the other games of chance on offer there. But, as ever, the path of true crime rarely runs smooth and Locke and Jean soon find themselves co-opted into an attempt to bring the pirate fleet of the notorious Zamira Drakasha to justice. Fine work for thieves who don't know one end of galley from another. And all the while the Bondsmagi are plotting their very necessary revenge against the one man who believes e has humiliated them and lived; Locke Lamora.
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Scott Lynch was born in 1978 in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he still lives now. In addition to being a freelance writer for various role playing game companies he has done all the usual jobs writers put in their bios: dishwasher, waiter, web designer, marketing writer, office manager and short order cook.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE GAME WAS CAROUSEL HAZARD, the stakes were roughly half of all the wealth they commanded in the entire world, and the plain truth was that Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen were getting beaten like a pair of dusty carpets.
"Last offering for the fifth hand," said the velvet-coated attendant from his podium on the other side of the circular table. "Do the gentlemen choose to receive new cards?"
"No, no—the gentlemen choose to confer," said Locke, leaning to his left to place his mouth close to Jean's ear. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "What's your hand look like?"
"A parched desert," Jean murmured, casually moving his right hand up to cover his mouth. "How's yours?"
"A wasteland of bitter frustration."
"Have we been neglecting our prayers this week? Did one of us fart in a temple or something?"
"I thought the expectation of losing was all part of the plan."
"It is. I just expected we'd be able to put up a better fight than this."
The attendant coughed demurely into his left hand, the card-table equivalent of slapping Locke and Jean across the backs of their heads. Locke leaned away from Jean, tapped his cards lightly against the lacquered surface of the table, and grinned the best knew-what-he-was-doing sort of grin he could conjure from his facial arsenal. He sighed inwardly, glancing at the sizable pile of wooden markers that was about to make the short journey from the center of the table to his opponents' stacks.
"We are of course prepared," he said, "to meet our fate with heroic stoicism, worthy of mention by historians and poets."
The dealer nodded. "Ladies and gentlemen both decline last offering. House calls for final hands."
There was a flurry of shuffling and discarding as the four players formed their final hands and set them, facedown, on the table before them.
"Very well," said the attendant. "Turn and reveal."
The sixty or seventy of Tal Verrar's wealthiest idlers who had crowded the room behind them to watch every turn of Locke and Jean's unfolding humiliation now leaned forward as one, eager to see how embarrassed they would be this time.
TAL VERRAR, the Rose of the Gods, at the westernmost edge of what the Therin people call the civilized world.
If you could stand in thin air a thousand yards above Tal Verrar's tallest towers, or float in lazy circles there like the nations of gulls that infest the city's crevices and rooftops, you could see how its vast dark islands have given this place its ancient nickname. They seem to whirl outward from the city's heart, a series of crescents steadily increasing in size, like the stylized petals of a rose in an artist's mosaic.
They are not natural, in the sense that the mainland looming a few miles to the northeast is natural. The mainland cracks before wind and weather, showing its age. The islands of Tal Verrar are unweathered, possibly unweatherable—they are the black glass of the Eldren, unimaginable quantities of it, endlessly tiered and shot through with passages, glazed with layers of stone and dirt from which a city of men and women springs.
This Rose of the Gods is surrounded by an artificial reef, a broken circle three miles in diameter, shadows under shadowed waves. Against this hidden wall the restless Sea of Brass is gentled for the passage of vessels flying the banners of a hundred kingdoms and dominions. Their masts and yards rise in a forest, white with furled sails, far beneath your feet.
If you could turn your eye to the city's western island, you would see that its interior surfaces are sheer black walls, plunging hundreds of feet to the softly lapping harbor waves, where a network of wooden docks clings to the base of the cliffs. The seaward side of the island, however, is tiered along its entire length. Six wide, flat ledges sit one atop the other with smooth fifty-foot escarpments backing all but the highest.
The southernmost district of this island is called the Golden Steps—its six levels are thick with alehouses, dicing dens, private clubs, brothels, and fighting pits. The Golden Steps are heralded as the gambling capital of the Therin city-states, a place where men and women may lose money on anything from the mildest vices to the wickedest felonies. The authorities of Tal Verrar, in a magnanimous gesture of hospitality, have decreed that no foreigner upon the Golden Steps may be impressed into slavery. As a result, there are few places west of Camorr where it is safer for strangers to drink their brains out and fall asleep in the gutters and gardens.
There is rigid stratification on the Golden Steps; with each successively higher tier, the quality of the establishments rises, as do the size, number, and vehemence of the guards at the doors. Crowning the Golden Steps are a dozen baroque mansions of old stone and witchwood, embedded in the wet green luxury of manicured gardens and miniature forests.
These are the "chance houses of quality"—exclusive clubs where men and women of funds may gamble in the style to which their letters of credit entitle them. These houses have been informal centers of power for centuries, where nobles, bureaucrats, merchants, ships' captains, legates, and spies gather to wager fortunes, both personal and political.
Every possible amenity is contained within these houses. Notable visitors board carriage-boxes at exclusive docks at the base of the inner harbor cliffs, and are hauled up by gleaming brass water engines, thereby avoiding the narrow, twisting, crowd-choked ramps leading up the five lower Steps on their seaward face. There is even a public dueling green—a broad expanse of well-kept grass lying dead-center on the top tier, so that cooler heads need not be given any chance to prevail when someone has their blood up.
The houses of quality are sacrosanct. Custom older and firmer than law forbids soldiers or constables to set foot within them, save for response to the most heinous crimes. They are the envy of a continent: no foreign club, however luxurious or exclusive, can quite recapture the particular atmosphere of a genuine Verrari chance house. And they are, one and all, put to shame by the Sinspire.
Nearly one hundred and fifty feet tall, the Sinspire juts skyward at the southern end of the topmost tier of the Steps, which is itself more than two hundred and fifty feet above the harbor. The Sinspire is an Elderglass tower, glimmering with a pearly black sheen. A wide balcony decked with alchemical lanterns circles each of its nine levels. At night, the Sinspire is a constellation of lights in scarlet and twilight-sky blue, the heraldic colors of Tal Verrar.
The Sinspire is the most exclusive, most notorious, and most heavily guarded chance house in the world, open from sunset to sunrise for those powerful, wealthy, or beautiful enough to make it past the whims of the doorkeepers. Each ascending floor outdoes the one beneath it for luxury, exclusivity, and the risk ceiling of the games allowed. Access to each higher floor must be earned with good credit, amusing behavior, and impeccable play. Some aspirants spend years of their lives and thousands of solari trying to catch the attention of the Sinspire's master, whose ruthless hold on his unique position has made him the most powerful arbiter of social favor in the city's history.
The code of conduct at the Sinspire is unwritten, but as rigid as that of a religious cult. Most simply, most incontrovertibly, it is death to be caught cheating here. Were the archon of Tal Verrar himself to be detected with a card up his sleeve, he would find no appeal this side of the gods themselves from the consequences. Every few months, the tower's attendants discover some would-be exception to the rule, and yet another person dies quietly of an alchemical overdose in their carriage, or tragically "slips" from the balcony nine stories above the hard, flat stones of the Sinspire's courtyard.
It has taken Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen two years and a completely new set of false identities to carefully cheat their way up to the fifth floor.
They are, in fact, cheating at this very moment, trying hard to keep up with opponents who have no need to do likewise.
"LADIES SHOW a run of Spires and a run of Sabers, crowned with the Sigil of the Sun," said the attendant. "Gentlemen show a run of Chalices and a mixed hand, crowned with the five of Chalices. Fifth hand is to the ladies."
Locke bit the inside of his cheek as a wave of applause rippled through the warm air of the room. The ladies had taken four of the five hands so far, and the crowd had barely deigned to notice Locke and Jean's sole victory.
"Well, damn," said Jean, in credible mock surprise.
Locke turned to the opponent on his right. Maracosa Durenna was a slender, dark-complexioned woman in her late thirties, with thick hair the color of oil smoke and several visible scars on her neck and forearms. In her right hand she held a thin black cigar wrapped with gold thread, and on her face she wore a tight smile of detached contentment. The game was clearly not demanding her utmost exertion.
The attendant flicked Locke and Jean's little pile of lost wooden counters toward the ladies' side of the table with a long-handled crop. He then used the same crop to sweep all the cards back into his hands; it was strictly forbidden for players to touch the cards after the attendant had called for the reveal.
"Well, Madam Durenna," said Locke, "my congratulations on the increasingly robust state of your finances. Your purse would seem to be the only thing growing faster than my impending hangover." Locke knuckle-walke...
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